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A MONK OR NUN, BY VIRTUE OF THEIR PROFESSION, IS BOUND TO TEND TO PERFECTION.
YOU will, peradventure, say, Oh, this perfection is too much above me, therefore will I not stretch myself, nor endeavour to apprehend it, lest I should labour in vain. But my answer is, that if you do according to your words, you are no Monk; for, although you are not bound to attain to perfection, yet are you bound, as much as in you lieth, to endeavour to attain to it. Flatter yourself how you will, persuade yourself as you will, fain and pretend what excuses you will, you are bound with might and main to tend to perfection. It is even so and not otherwise. If hitherto you have been ignorant of it, henceforth ignorance cannot excuse you; you have bound and obliged yourself, and so you shall remain.
But you will say, I cannot attain to such perfection. What mean you by this distrust? Are you 94ignorant that the divine power can do more than human infirmity can imagine? I confess that of yourself you cannot attain it, but God is able to bring you. Believe God, hope in God, not in yourself. Trust in the grace and help of God, not in your own endeavours. Nevertheless, that God may be with you, be not you wanting to yourself by sloth. Do what lieth in your power, put forth your hands, stretch out your arms, confirm your mind to the destruction of vice, to the perfect abnegation of yourself; recollect your heart, produce affection, elevate your mind to the contemplation of those things that are eternal, and accustom yourself everywhere to attend the presence of God: which that you may the better perform, propose to yourself according to the above demonstrated example every day some part of our Lord’s Passion, and carefully cast your internal eyesight upon the same; in the meantime sweetly conversing with JESUS, or with your soul concerning Him. Always, I say, busy your cogitations (as much as commodiously you may) in some divine matter. Let this be your scope; let this be the determination of your mind. Labour for this without rest with a quiet and pleasing care. And 95although every moment (as I may say) you be distracted and stray from your intention, be not dejected; let not that breed pusillanimity, but be constant, and ever return to what you are resolved. By your indefatigable labour you shall overcome all trouble of difficulty. Nay, in a little while you will find this labour more easy and pleasant; and being regenerate to the newness of an unknown light, you will begin to taste of the delights laid up for the Saints; you will not be the same as you were before; but, being happily changed into another man, and clothed with angelical grace, you will highly esteem what before you despised, and despise what before you highly esteemed. That which before did evilly please you will now displease you; what before evilly displeased you will now please you: you will promptly and willingly endure what before seemed insufferable. O pleasant metamorphosis! O change proceeding from the right hand of the Most High. At last, this laudable custom growing into a second nature, and the divine love more perfectly possessing you within, you will not feel any labour; and as before without labour you did think on filthy, impure, absurd, foolish, vain, and dream like things, so now 96you will without labour adhere to God and divine things. For, of necessity, the mind must daily reflect on that which the heart dearly loveth.
Woe, woe unto perverse, tepid, and negligent Monks—Monks in .name, but not in life—who, contemning the reverence of their state, and violating their vows, are neither ashamed, nor fear to wallow in the dirt and dung of sloth, vanity, and passions. But blessed, yea, ten times triple blessed, are those Monks and Religious men who, albeit they are of little estimation and imperfect, do, notwithstanding, with might and main aspire and tend to perfection; for they are certainly the adopted sons of God, whom our pious Saviour doth comfort, saying, Fear not little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a Kingdom. They may surely expect death, although they are yet but in the beginning of their holy purpose. Because it shall be precious in the sight of our Lord, surely may they expect death; and yet not death, but the sleep of peace, the period of death and the passage from death to life.
What say you, Brother? Are you yet in doubt? Do you yet stagger? Take courage, I pray you, and being emboldened through so great a confidence in 97Our Lord’s goodness, going on the way of salvation without a fear, preparing your soul against temptations. Let no manner of difficulty affright you. In all adversity which you happen to endure, either at home or abroad, say gratefully the will of our Lord be done. Although you must sweat much and long, and wrestle strongly before you can overcome and supplant the old man, let not that trouble you consider not the labour, but the fruit of the labour. Believe me, the supernal piety will be present at your labours, and will still most lovingly succour you, will comfort you when you fear, will confirm you when you stagger, will defend you being assailed, will uphold you when you slip, will comfort you in your sorrow and will now and then infuse the most precious ointment of internal sweetness into you. If you persevere, the force of temptations must of necessity yield to the force of divine love; temptations and tribulations will no more be grievous and bitter to you, but light and sweet. Then shall you see all good, and shall find a paradise even in this life. This, I say, will come to pass if you persevere and be not of the number of them that begin well, but, being deluded by the allurements of Satan, or wearied with 98the troubles of temptations and labours, do afterwards lightly leave their good purposes. They will not be pressed with the weight of tribulation, and, therefore, in time of affliction are scandalized in our Lord, and going back from Him, do, as it were, seem to say: This saying is hard, and who can bear it?
They build not on the firm rock, but on the unstable sand; and, therefore, their buildings do easily fall down at every puff of wind and pushes of the floods. And would to God they would consider their ruins, and not so give over, but make haste to renew the decayed building, no more laying their foundations upon the sands, but committing them to the firmness of the rock.. Dear Brother, if (which God forbid) your building be fallen, renew your overthrown work, and build again more happily than you did before. If it fall twice, or ten, or a hundred, yea, a thousand times, or more, repair it as often as it falleth. Never despair of God’s mercy; for the innumerable multitude of horrible and hideous sins doth not make God so implacably angry with us as desperation alone; for he that despaireth of forgiveness denieth the mercy and omnipotency of God and blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost We cannot be 99so ready to sin as our Lord is to pardon, if we abuse not His patience; .that is, if we will truly and in time do penance. Thus ought every Christian to think. But, lest prolixity make my treatise displeasing, I think it best for me to withdraw my pen, and to stop the course of my begun navigation. In the meanwhile we take down our sails, it will not be amiss briefly to touch what you ought to do at every day’s end.
Every day, therefore, before you go to bed, seriously, but without inordinate discipline of mind, consider in what you have that day offended, and ask pardon of our most merciful God, purposing thenceforth to live better, and more carefully to avoid all vice. Then pray that He will vouchsafe to keep you that night from all pollution, both of body and mind, commending to Him and to His sacred Mother and your holy Angel your soul and body to be guarded and kept. Being gone to bed, arm yourself with the sign of our Lord’s Cross, and having honestly and chastely composed your body, sigh to your Beloved, thinking upon some good thing until sleep gently seize on you; which, if it be over deep and rather a burthen than a refreshing to your body; 100if, likewise, by frail illusions it procure or produce anything savouring of dishonesty, be not overmuch grieved thereat, but humbly sigh before our Lord, and with humble prayers beseech Him to grant you sobriety of diet and senses, to which sobriety of sleep and purity of body are commonly companions.
This is all, dear Brother, that I have to send you. You desired a mirror or looking-glass; see whether you have received one. If I have any way satisfied your desire, God be praised; if not, howsoever, God be praised. I have given you what our Lord hath given me; but, be they better or worse, I desire you sometimes to read them over. Fare you well, and pray for me.
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